Key Senate chairman worries immigration overhaul pace too slow

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday expressed impatience with the pace of work to produce an immigration overhaul proposal for congressional consideration.

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(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said he had been urging President Obama to bring forward legislation for months but understood his decision to hold off while a bipartisan group of eight senators quietly works on their own proposal.

However, Leahy said that group has now missed several deadlines as well. He had hoped members of his committee--the first stop for any immigration legislation--would be able to review a bill over the two-week congressional recess that begins next week, then begin committee work in April.

"This process will take time.  It will not be easy.  There will be strongly-held, differing points of view," he said, in opening remarks to a committee hearing about due process in immigration. "Because we do not yet have legislative language to debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee will not be able to report a comprehensive immigration bill by the end of April, which was my goal."

There is broad agreement among those who want to complete an immigration law revision that the process must move quickly, while the results of the last election are still fresh and Republicans appear open to the changes. The Senate group has been working feverishly to produce a bill. Still, the senators had said they hoped to complete their work in March. Now, they hope to put a bill forward next month, after the recess.

"This is a complicated issue that needs to be done the right way," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the group, indicating the senators hope to submit legislation right after the recess concludes. "There are some items that are still outstanding and that we need to work through. Assuming we can get those worked out, the answer is yes. But it has to be done the right way."

Leahy's comments come a day after six Republicans submitted a letter complaining that the immigration overhaul process is moving too quickly and asking Leahy to hold additional hearings into the matter.

Wednesday's hearing marked the third since the bipartisan group unveiled joint principles for action in January and made clear they hoped to submit legislation for committee approval soon.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.
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